Traditional elementary, middle, and high school education relies upon class room-based learning in which subjects are separate and distinct from one another. While this approach to education can be successful in terms of teaching children the fundamentals (reading, writing, and arithmetic), can our students be taught these basics while gaining hands-on experience of the world around them? Can our students learn while simultaneously giving something back to the communities in which they live? The answer to both of these questions is “yes,” as demonstrated by learning labs like the Rachel Marshall Outdoor Learning Lab.
The Rachel Marshall Outdoor Learning Lab (RMOLL) is what is known as a “community-based learning laboratory.” Community-based learning laboratories are places in which students and educators from elementary, middle, and high schools make use of public lands through service-learning projects. Service-learning projects connect academic work with community involvement. Students and teachers who make use of the Rachel Marshall Outdoor Learning Lab create and undertake projects that enhance learning while contributing something to their communities.
The Rachel Marshall Outdoor Learning Lab, located in Keene, NH, was started in 1996 on a 2.5-acre plot in the Ashuelot River Park. The projects undertaken in the Lab focus on land management issues and ecological preservation. With widespread community support, the Lab was expanded to encompass all public land in Keene; this means that RMOLL now operates on more than 2,000 acres. The RMOLL Education Advisory Committee, which includes community members, city officials, school administrators, students, parents, and teachers, helps manage the projects that students undertake. Committee members provide project participants with support and advice.
What sorts of projects do students and educators undertake in the Lab? Examples of successful projects include: second graders comparing a present day portion of the Beech Hill Preserve to that same area in the 1800s and creating a photo-essay on their findings; third graders researching, designing, and building a butterfly garden; fourth graders investigating soil and tree types in Ladies’ Wildwood Park and tagging 40 trees for preservation; ninth graders studying erosion and working to restore a portion of a stream bank in the Ashuelot River watershed; and high school juniors and seniors collaborating on bird banding research with the Antioch Environmental Studies Department.
To date, some 102 teachers (K through 12th grade) have been trained to incorporate the RMOLL site in their teaching, resulting in over 10,800 student days being spent at the learning lab since it opened. The Lab estimates that 3,287 students have actively participated in over 45 service-learning projects since its inception. Cooperating partners of the Rachel Marshall Outdoor Learning Lab are Antioch New England Institute’s Center for Environmental Education, Harris Center for Conservation Education, the City of Keene, and the Keene School District.
Contact Group: Center for Environmental Education
Address: 40 Avon Street
Keene, NH 03431-3516
Web site: http://rmoll.schoolsgogreen.org/